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Non-contact detection of explosive materials

NSF Award:

CAREER: Synthesis of Covalent Organic Frameworks with Novel Optoelectronic Properties  (Cornell University)

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The common ingredients found in improvised explosive devices over the past 20 years include RDX, PETN and 1,3,5-trinitrotoluene (TNT). Currently, to identify these components, airport security runs a swab over a suspected object prior to analysis. However, a polymer developed by William Dichtel's group at Cornell University can now detect RDX and PETN vapors in the air.

This research is relevant to homeland security and antiterrorism efforts around the world. Once incorporated into a device, the sensing capability will allow enhanced detection of RDX and PETN explosives and identification of individuals who have recently handled these compounds. The polymer's sensitivity and detection speed also make it a compelling material for commercial and military applications.

Under ultraviolet light the polymer glows, but goes dark when exposed to trace amounts of explosives such as RDX and PETN. Raised surface areas improve the material's capacity to detect explosives and enhance its vapor-sensing capacity.

The research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. 

Images (1 of )

  • glowing polymer goes dark when exposed to explosive vapors
  • illustration shows polymer structure and its interaction with rdx vapor
Glowing polymer goes dark when exposed to explosive vapors.
Deepti Gopalakrishnan and William Dichtel
The polymer structure and its interaction with RDX vapor.
Deepti Gopalakrishnan and William Dichtel

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